April remembrances of Skowron, Alvarez
Updated: June 11, 2012 8:33AM
Clearing out the April IN bin:
The White Sox take care of their own by hiring former stars like Bill Skowron, Minnie Minoso, Billy Pierce and Ron Kittle to be “community ambassadors” at ball-park events, charity functions, youth baseball leagues and their Fantasy Camp.
Skowron, who died April 27 at age 81, hit most of his 211 major-league home runs with the Yankees, but the Chicago native made enough impact with the White Sox from 1964-67 to endear himself for years with his humor.
I spent a day following Skowron around U.S. Cellular Field about 10 years ago on a Sun-Times’ assignment. He got a kick out of fans frequently mistaking him for big Ted Kluszewski.
“I’m honored,” Skowron said. “He hit more homers than I did and I’m uglier.”
Much ado about nothing
The perfect game by White Sox pitcher Phillip Humber at Seattle last month sent me thumbing through the Sox and Cubs media guides to count four no-hitters I witnessed in 27 Sun-Times years of baseball coverage. Each involved the White Sox.
They were Wilson Alvarez (White Sox, 1991 at Baltimore); Bret Saberhagen (Royals, 1991 at Kansas City); Mike Warren (Athletics, 1983 at Oakland); Jack Morris (Tigers, 1984 Tigers at Comiskey Park).
Wilson’s no-no looked like an oh-no late in the game when center fielder Lance Johnson made a diving catch going to his left.
A replay showed empty space in right-center until Johnson’s glove hand appeared, followed by the player himself with his spectacular catch.
“I’d kind of forgotten it until I was having dinner with friends in Washington (D.C.) and it came on TV,” Johnson said, laughing. “It was pretty good, wasn’t it?”
The next day in New York, Alvarez and I both missed the team bus to Yankee Stadium to start a series with the Yankees.
“Follow me,” I said, leading him downstairs to a subway train where we stood holding onto straps. Little did other strap-hanging passengers realize that the scared-looking guy standing next to them had pitched a Major League no-hitter just 24 hours earlier. I was scared, too, but we made it.
Alvarez only was 21 years old then. He finished the year with a 3-2 record and was 101-88 lifetime.
The Sox finished eight games out of first place in ‘91 despite a star-spangled lineup that included Kittle, Ozzie Guillen, Robin Ventura, Carlton Fisk, Tim Raines, Bo Jackson and Jack McDowell.
A Venezuela native, Alvarez eventually gained U.S. citizenship and moved to Sarasota, Fla. to discourage countries that plot kidnaps of celebrities.
In harm’s way
The acquittal of four Los Angeles policemen in the beating case of Rodney King happened 20 years ago in April, leading to 54 riot-related deaths in that city and nearly $1 billion in property damage.
I was almost an unwitting victim in Pittsburgh that night when I came out of a restaurant after a Cubs-Pirates night game just as a nightclub was letting out across the street.
A few nightclub patrons started pushing me while asking what I thought of Rodney King. They let up a little bit when I said King “got a bad deal,” but a young man prevented a serious situation by shielding me and saying, “Hey, I know this guy. He’s OK. Let him alone.”
We didn’t know each other, of course, but the gathering crowd dispersed upon his words and he walked me eight blocks to the Pittsburgh Hilton.
I thanked him profusely with a $20 “tip.” It’s the best money I ever spent.